This wasn't your average marriage rededication ceremony.
Hundreds of people gathered to receive blessings, some clutching unloaded AR-15 rifles, when they exchanged or renewed wedding vows Wednesday, according to CNN affiliate WFMZ-TV.
Hundreds exchange or renew wedding vows in Pennsylvania
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The event was led by Pastor Hyung Jin Moon at the controversial Sanctuary Church in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania.
Guns were zip-tied at the door and ammunition was not allowed in the church, WFMZ reported. It said the nearby Wallenpaupack Area School District moved students of a nearby elementary school to other campuses
'Not in our town'
The event was held two weeks after a gunman killed 17 people with an AR-15 in a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. Church members say the ceremony was scheduled months before the Parkland shooting, and they were following God's will to honor the Second Amendment, according to the affiliate.
Protesters angered by what they described as the insensitivity and timing of the ceremony gathered in front of the church Monday, two days before the event.
"We do not believe in guns in church. Not in our town," Esther Clayton told WFMZ.
Church member John Gidney, who traveled from West Virginia for the ceremony, said Christians need to arm themselves.
"The way the world is going today, it's just a form of protection for us. We're not out to harm anyone or cause any chaos or anything," he told the affiliate.
In a message on the church's Facebook page, Moon said the event was not to "bless guns."
He said the book of Revelations discussed Jesus Christ "ruling with a rod of iron." The Bible "tells us that God will shepherd His children with the rod of iron, guarding the flock not as a dictator, but as a loving father," he said. In the same sense, Moon said, God calls on his people to use the "rod of iron" to protect themselves.
A legacy of controversy
Moon is the son of Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who founded the Unification Church in the 1950s.
Before he died in 2012 at age 92, the elder Moon was a high-profile international evangelist for decades.
He became famous for conducting mass weddings, including at New York City's Madison Square Garden and another one uniting 360,000 couples in South Korea.
The Sanctuary Church calls itself Rod of Iron Ministries, and is a breakaway faction of the Unification Church, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The Unification Church distanced itself from Wednesday's event, saying its ceremonies and teachings do not involve weapons.
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